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Robot Vacuums

Here's how to set up virtual barriers for robot vacuums

Make sure your robot vacuum cleans where you want it to

The latest generation of iRobot Roombas all have virtual barrier Credit: iRobot

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The best robot vacuum is the one that does what you want it to and doesn’t cause a bigger mess than it cleans up. That’s why, when using one to maintain your floors, it’s important to set up barriers to keep your robot vacuum out of unwanted areas and focused on the carpets and hardwood you want to be cleaned.

Nearly all the current generation Roombas employ what is known as virtual barriers. In this new age where everything is going digital, longtime robot vacuum users know that with new models the days of laying down magnetic strips and setting up infrared lighthouses are in the past.

Here’s exactly how your Roomba and many other robot vacuum cleaners know where not to go.

What are virtual barriers?

In a nutshell, virtual barriers are lines you can draw on smart maps to corral a robot vacuum to clean the areas you want it to clean and to avoid sensitive places like dog bowls and antique furniture.

In all the implementations we’ve tested, you use a smartphone app to create these virtual barriers. This method allows you to do away with magnetic strips and running around the house closing doors before a robot vacuum cleaning cycle.

How do you set up virtual barriers?

An image of an iRobot app
Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

Smart maps allow you to create virtual barriers so you can clean selected rooms

Brands differ on how their systems works, but they’re all variations on a theme. Because of that, we’re going to use the iRobot j7+, our favorite robot vacuum, as an example.

Step 1: Charge your robot vacuum overnight

This might seem obvious, but to make the process go smoothly, you’re going to need a fully charged battery.

Step 2: Download the app

While you’re waiting for the J7+ to charge, you should download the app for the robot vacuum—for the j7+, it’s this app.

In general, there are two things you need to pay attention to. First, always make sure to download the app that is labeled from the manufacturer and not a third-party.

The second thing is that many manufacturers have multiple generations of apps, and you should download the most current one. If you are unsure, consult the manufacturer’s website. There are usually screenshots of the app and what it should look like.

In our case, we need to download the iRobot Home app.

Step 3: Create the smart map

It’s for this step that you need all that battery power. Select the Map option on the home screen of the iRobot Home app. From there, you can instruct your Roomba to start mapping your home. The smart map will be created over multiples runs. How long this process takes depends on how many square feet the robot vacuum must explore.

Step 4: Label specific rooms and draw barriers

The iRobot Home app gives you the opportunity to label specific rooms and add virtual barriers where you want to. The process is intuitive, and all you need to do is tap and place.

Step 5: Schedule and use

The last step is to utilize the newly created virtual barriers to their fullest extent.

To do this, we suggest setting your robot vacuum on a schedule. With your barriers in place, you can rest assured that your robot vacuum is cleaning the areas you want and staying away from the areas you do not.


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